Ballymena has become the first town in Northern Ireland to have a Business Improvement District following a ‘Yes’ vote by local businesses.
According to the Chair of Ballymena Town Centre Development, Terry Robb, the positive response from traders to the Business Improvement District (BID) ballot is “an historic move” and “a move in a new direction for the town of Ballymena”.
A BID is an area where legislation allows the public and private sector to agree via a vote to invest collectively in local improvements. In this business-led initiative, the businesses directly control the projects implemented in their town.
Speaking on Wednesday after the result was revealed at a BIDs conference in The Braid, Mr Robb said: “As far back as 2006 councillors and traders looked at the Bedford BID in the UK and now we have our very own BID”.
Ballymena was part of a BIDs development project along with Coleraine, Larne, Ayr and Sligo which was part-financed by the EU’s INTERREG IVA Cross-border Programme managed by the Special EU Programmes Body.
In total the project secured £716,000 of funding, with £161,000 of this going straight to Ballymena.
In addition, Ballymena BID has been participating in the Department for Social Development’s Northern Ireland BIDs Academy, where seven pilot locations have been receiving capacity-building support and training to help the locations prepare for the establishment of a BID in their own area.
Ballymena is the first of the seven areas to successfully prepare for and vote for the setting up of a BID.
Anne Donaghy, Chief Executive of Mid and East Antrim Council, stated: “It’s a very exciting day for Ballymena. The businesses made the initial move themselves and Council were delighted to support and facilitate the process, led by the businesses and managed through a 14-strong Task Team of local business people.”
Task Team member Richard Montgomery, of Montgomery’s Ballymoney Street, commented: “The BID will help make the town centre an even more attractive place to live, work, play, shop and do business. It is also great news for the local community, traders and businesses, as we look to create an even more vibrant shopping hub.
Angela Ritchie from Elite Lighting added: “Raising the profile of the town, changing perceptions and driving up footfall through a BID is something we will all benefit from.”
The hope is that a BID will help to achieve Ballymena’s full potential as a town.
The businesses now have the opportunity to shape Ballymena’s future as Ballymena’s BID will have a co-ordinated programme of marketing, promotions and events, greater accessibility, support for town centre businesses through an innovation fund, greater safety and security, and an improved and cleaner, physical environment.
Ballymena’s BID, which a total of 488 businesses were eligible to vote on, will be funded by an annual levy of 1.5% on the rateable value of the businesses it covers.
The announcement of the BID ballot came at the conclusion of the ‘Better Towns through Partnership and BIDs’ conference, which was held at the Braid Centre in Ballymena on Tuesday.
All five partner locations who were involved in the project - Ballymena, Coleraine, Larne, Sligo and Ayr were in attendance and spoke on their experience with the project.
Whilst, only Ballymena was in a position to move forward with the BID vote, it is understood many of the other areas are working hard to follow suit.